Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Return to Sender

You're at a party and someone gives you a gift. When could you say you have received it?

It sounds weird to put it like that, doesn't it? They hand it to you, you've received it. Ta-da. Or maybe you could go a little more philosophical and say, you've received it once you've actually opened it, seen what it is, said thanks.

Catholic liturgy teaches us that reception is not all at once like that. Because acceptance isn't all at once -- things need to time to sink in. And the proof is in the pudding. If you remember, lonnnggg longgg ago I talked about the ancient conception that what made God God was the fact that he kept his promise to save us. Deeds, not words.

The same is true for us. What makes us Christian is not that we say we're Christian, but that our lives and deeds reflect that faith. Our faith calls us into action.

And all of that, in a nutshell, is what those last minutes of the liturgy are for. First, to give things time to settle -- I say again, please, you liturgists and presiders, please give us some silence. Let us have some time to savor this experience, these graces.

And then second, to send us forth. Like Jesus with the disciples the presider blesses us, on special occasions even busting out with the "Bow your heads and pray for God's blessing"; and then he missions us -- Go in peace, to serve the Lord and one another.

The point is clear: The Mass is over. We're the disciples. Gotta get back out there and live it. It's all about deeds. It's all about striving. It's all about bothering to try to love.

Our How-to-Say-Mass professor used to warn us that you have to be careful about the final phrases of prayers. They can easily get lost in the shuffle and seem less important than what came before. So, for example, in Eucharist Prayer III, right before the institution narrative the presider says "All life, all holiness comes from you/through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,/by the working of the Holy Spirit." And if you listen 9 times out of 10, that Holy Spirit piece gets sort of mumbled or swallowed, when it should have emphasis all its own.

Maybe the whole missioning piece of the liturgy is sort of like that. Just this small bit coming at the end of a whole lot, it's easy for it to get lost.

And maybe we as Church should be doing it differently, or talking about it, such as during the homily, to explain its purpose and value to us. In a consumer culture like ours, Mass can end up seeming like another store you go to to pick up something you want -- be it peace or wisdom or the Eucharist.

But we're about more than that -- we're about being sent. And the Church means us to feel not only the challenge of being missioned, but the support of it! We don't leave alone. The Holy Spirit impels us, and is with us.

It's actually meant to be a very encouraging and inspiring moment.

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